has crossed the limit,” said the owner of a small iron ore mine in Joda. Essel Mining was sent a closure notice by the OPCB’s regional office in Keonjhar district on January 24, 2006, for violating conditions and running two screening plants inside the forest area without mandatory environmental clearance. It did not shut shop.
The divisional forest officer of Keonjhar in January 2011 had recommended that the principal chief conservator of forests, Orissa, move the Centre to withdraw forest clearance to Sarada Mines, and that the state government cancel Sarada’s lease for Thakurani Iron Ore Mines. The DFO sent several reports of the company having violated the Forest Conservation Act,1980.
Under an approved mining plan, Indrani Patnaik’s company was allowed to raise 2.10 lakh tonnes per annum but in three years it extracted 28 lakh tonnes, paying royalty and other taxes for every tonne. Her husband D R Patnaik, who holds the power of attorney for the mines, told The Indian Express: “It’s true we might have committed some irregularities, but there was no illegal mining. If we had committed any illegalities, how did the officials accept the royalty amount we paid? Nobody raised a voice then.”
Steel and mines department officials privately admit that the state was aware of excess production since 2003 as mining returns are filed with the IBM every month. “It was not as if we discovered just now. The first reports of over-mining came in 2003,” said an official.
Biswajit Mohanty of Transparency International India, who was one of the petitioners in the Orissa High Court demanding a CBI probe into the mining scam, agreed that the state government’s order may have too many flaws. “They have calculated the penalty taking the average price of iron ore for that period. But the price of iron ore changes every quarter and so due care should have been taken to arrive at the correct figure. The moment the companies move the Mining Tribunal, the orders would be stayed,” he said.
Mohanty alleged mines ministry officials were in collusion with the errant miners as the ministry had changed the MC rules.